Naval construction units,
known as Seabees, were active in the Vietnam conflict from the very beginning of the American
presence there. From 1963 onwards Seabee were building camps for the Fifth
Special Forces Group. During that period, they were also engaged in civic
action programs, building airstrips, bridges, dams, roads, housing, and
schools. Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, each staffed with 24 officers
and 738 enlisted men, began arriving at Da Nang in May 1965 as part of the 30th Naval Construction
Regiment. The 3rd Naval Construction Brigade followed in 1966 and the 32nd
Naval Construction Regiment arrived in August 1967. The Seabees were based at Da Nang, Chu Lai, Hue-Phu Bai, Dong Tam, and Quang Tri. By 1968,
Seabees totalled more than 10,000 men and by early1970, Seabee Teams departed
without relief as part of the United States troop withdrawals. On 18 April 1972, the last Seabee Team site located in Ham Tan, BinhTuyProvince, was closed.
While they were primarily
builders and instructors, Seabee Team members were sometimes directly involved
in battle. Perhaps the most famous such battle occurred in June 1965 at Dong
Xoai, 55 miles northeast of Saigon. When Viet Cong troops overran a Special Forces Camp
containing 400 South Vietnamese and allied Asian troops, 11 men of a U.S. Army
Special Forces team and nine men of Seabee Team 1104, seven of the Seabees were
wounded and two killed. One of the dead was Construction Mechanic 3rd Class
Marvin G. Shields, USN, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for
conspicuous gallantry in carrying a critically wounded man to safety and in
destroying a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement at the cost of his life. Not
only was Marvin Shields the first Seabee to win the nation's highest award, but
he was also the first Navy man to be so decorated for action in Vietnam.
In a war where winning the
hearts of the people was an important part of the total effort, Seabee
construction skills and medical assistance proved powerful weapons in the
Vietnam "civic action" war. They supported the Marines at Chu Lai and
Khe Sanh, reopened the railroad line between Hue and Danang, struggled with the logistics problems of
the Mekong Delta, constructed a new naval base on a sand pad floating on paddy
mud, and built staggering quantities of warehouses, aircraft support
facilities, roads, and bridges. But they also hauled and dumped numerous tons
of rock and paving on roads that provided access to farms and markets, supplied
fresh water to countless numbers of Vietnamese through hundreds of Seabee-dug
wells, provided medical treatment to thousands of villagers, and opened up new
opportunities and hope for generations to come through Seabee-built schools,
hospitals, utilities systems, roads and other community facilities. Seabees
also worked with, and taught construction skills to the Vietnamese people,
helping them to help themselves and proving that the Seabees really are
"builders for peace."
Đông Hà was
the Quang Tri province capital and the northernmost town in South Vietnam. It was situated at the crossroads of National Highway 1A and route 9 and was overrun on March 31,
1972, during the initial
assaults of the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive.
"CampBarnes" was the Seabee camp inside Đông Hà US Marine Combat
Base which provided surveillance of troops movements across the Vietnamese Demilitarized
Zone (DMZ). The camp was named afterSenior Chief Donald J. Barnes, who was MCB-11’s first casualty. In 1967 the based was shelled daily with a direct
hit to Dong Ha main ammo dump in September 67.
"The oldMCB 7 Camp
Barnes sign was at the camp's entrance and when we got there, we made it into
anMCB 62 sign. The lone seabee on top
was removed and theMCB 62 round insignia
was put up and the numbers 62 were put up just below where the 7 was."
CampBarnes in 1969-70
Here's what I know of CampBarnes at Dong Ha. It was a small portion, as you
know, of a large Marine Combat Base mostly 1st Marine Division. It was on
a major road called Route 9. Route 9 is parallel to the DMZ and
went on in to Laos. Also, Route 1, which was the north/south highway for Vietnam came through Dong Ha too. The famous base at
Khe Sanh was on Route 9.
Holmes with rock monkey
Near Dong Ha
Surveying at campCarroll
Some other combat bases on it
were Cam Lo, Vandergriff, The Rockpile, CampCarroll, and others. Vandergriff and Carroll were Fire
Support Bases (FSB) with some big guns. The KheGioBridge (we called it Bridge 9-12) was on Route 9 too.
It was overrun in 1970. Except for Khe Sanh, I was at all of
these places . Seabee battalions rotated to CampBarnes from home ports in the U.S. my home port was Gulfport, Mississippi. It is still there. Seabee battalions did
two 8 month tours to Vietnam unlike the 12-13 months for Marines and Army.
An entire battalion would go to Vietnam so MCB 62's
headquarters would be at CampBarnes too. There were a few Seabee battalions in Vietnam at one time. Another camp was CampHaskins in Da Nang. That was my home base when I was working out
of Ha Thanh. Our Battalion commander was Captain John Paul Jones. A
Navy Captain is same as an Army bird colonel. I was in H Company which were
mostly land surveyors, draftsman and folks who do typical engineering work.
H Company also had the 81mm
mortar squad and there was about
8 of us on the squad.
We provided mortar fire for
the Marines which is kind of hard to believe.
The other companies had their
on specialties such as utilities (electrical, plumbing etc), builders who
contracted buildings, Steel workers who built bridges, and a company of heavy
equipment operators and mechanics. The Seabees organization is structured
much like the Marines except for our rank. We had battalions, companies,
platoons, squads etc. Not at all like the Navy.
Bronco 06/69 Dong Ha airfield
Dong Ha had an airfield
that had smaller planes and not jets that I remember. A lot of FACs were there I guess
because of the need for them along the DMZ area to keep an eye out for the
NVA. We saw a lot of NVA, because of being close to North Vietnam and not as much VC.
The Seabees at CampBarnes were pretty much self efficient. We had a
famous mess hall that all the services liked eating at. Navy cooks are
noted for their good cooking. Dong Ha Combat Base had a bread bakery
that made bread for the entire base.
"Dick on Shit burning
We all lived in "hootchies" which were plywood with a tin roof and
sand bags up to the screen windows. Each hootch had I guess about 12
men with two sharing a small area with partitions.
Between the beds, was a trap door in the floor that lead to a ditch that lead
to an underground bunker. Went into it many times when in-coming
rockets would come in.
We had toilets outside that
were called shitters and big shower houses.
Our battalion had about 750
men with a lot of them out on different details and not staying at CampBarnes.
I spent most of my time out on Route 9 living
with the Marines and Army. We were paving Route 9 and Route 1 with
asphalt and building bridges. I did the soil and asphalt testing and some
surveying. We had our own rock crusher and asphalt plant. We set a
Seabee record for miles of asphalt laid down in one day. I think it was 5
miles. We worked from sun up to sun down most days with a half of day off
on Sunday. When we fired mortars at night they would let us sleep in but
it was too hot most of the time to sleep. Sunday afternoons were nice and
we would grill out sometimes when we could find some steaks and beer.
Beer was either free or 10 cents. CampBarnes had a small ice plant that used a brine solution, but
ice was still a luxury. Officers had air conditioned quarters plus the
medical hut was air conditioned along with the MARS station hut. The MARS
boys would patch me by short wave radio to a person in the U.S. who did it as a hobby. He would then get my
parents on the phone and I could talk to them. There were 12 hours
between us. Only problem was you had to say "over" when you
were through talking so the other person on the end of line could know to talk
and my mother could never get the hang of that. I did this about once a
month so it was not often.
At beer party, Dong Ha, Oct. 69
Barry Condon and me
That's pretty much it for
what I remember about Dong Ha and the area.
Petty Officer Third Class Richard Holmes
by Regimental Sign in Dong Ha
in front ofwhat we called the surveyors
shack and soils lab.
All information and display items are courtesy of
Petty Officer Third Class Richard Holmes
Third Naval Construction Brigade,
32nd Naval Construction Regiment, Mobile
Construction Battalion 62.